We spoke to Molly Brown, the youngest girl ever to row across the Atlantic
‘Being back on land again was like having lead attached to your feet’
On Wednesday 27thJuly at 6am friends and family went to greet the five women on board the 8.5- metre long boat, Liberty of Essex at Falmouth Harbour, 50 days after it originally set off. Showered with praise and at last some hot clean water, they celebrated being the first all-female British crew to row West to East across the Atlantic Ocean as part of the Rannoch Women’s Challenge.
Among them was Molly Brown, an Oceanography student from the University of Southampton. At only 20 years old, she was the youngest ever woman to complete the challenge in either direction. She described her journey as “wet, bizarre and enjoyable”.
Molly says the experience “hasn’t sunk in yet”. She told me: “Our main problem was the wind. We spent about seven days on para-anchor due to having a headwind against us, which once it gets above 10-15knots is impossible to row against.
“It was annoying because from the start we knew that the weather was the one factor we couldn’t control and it was the main factor that would decide whether we made the speed record or not. But I beat the record for being the youngest female to row the Atlantic and we are the first British female crew to row this route.”
The weather was warm when the team left the US, but throughout the journey to the UK it came colder and rainier (typical). They even faced a storm halfway through when they battled again 50knot winds and 30ft waves.
Molly says: “The first time we had the big wind and waves I was a bit scared but after that I realised the boat would be OK in those conditions. We were really strict on safety like wearing harnesses so we were attached to the boat so in general I felt quite safe. But we were very surprised that we didn’t get capsized, the boats are quite unstable so we were lucky to not get tipped. If we had though, the boat should self right, so it’s a case of letting the boat right and then checking the boat for breakages and if the crew are ok.
“For safety we used a para-anchor. It’s like a parachute that goes in the water, and it holds you still so the wind doesn’t blow you over. In the storm it kept us safe because the boat would have rolled down the big waves and blown with the wind. In the headwinds it stopped us being blown backwards.”
The team worked in a shift pattern of two hours on two hours off, so they should use their off time for eating, drinking, sleeping or working. “The first couple of weeks were really, really hard. I was just tired the whole time but then I settled into the routine and it wasn’t too bad. Being woken up was the worst part of the trip, I’m not a good morning person anyway and having to do it 6 times a day was not nice, but again you have to get used to it as your only option really is to row.
“You get used to dealing with people moods from lack of sleep. I was labelled the princess as when I woke up I was a bit grumpy and demanding. We had a few disagreements but no major arguments, which was good as we were in such a small space, so having an argument would have been awful.”
Molly and the rest of the team survived on freeze-dried food made using a jet boil (sort of like a gas kettle, with water poured in to rehydrate the food). Understandably, it was hard to get used to. Molly says: “We were so hungry. I missed chocolate the most, I brought one chocolate bar for every other day and I wish I had more. The first thing I ate when I got back was a croissant with a coffee. We had been discussing it the day before so I was craving it a lot.”
Despite this they kept each others’ spirits high: “When we got close to home and the weather was good we decided to have an Adele power hour shift and just sung to Adele on the speakers, that was my favourite shift.”
Despite the harsh regime Molly only lost 3kg of weight and has come away only with aches and pains. She said: “When we got on land walking was really odd as our leg muscles had changed and it was like having lead attached to your feet. I was so lucky I didn’t get any blisters, we spent a lot of time rowing before to get out bodies used to it. The worst was our bums from sitting on them for 12 hours a day.
“The most amazing thing was at night time the phosphorescence in the water, it would light up as the waves hit the boat. There was one night where we could see the track of dolphins swimming under us in the light.
After nearly two months at sea Molly was greeted by her dad and housemates. She says: “Ah it was so nice, I know they were so worried about us whilst we were out there so I think it was more relief for them that we were back. People are really proud and everyone wants to talk to me. They mostly say they are so glad we made it back safely. Many also say they wouldn’t do it themselves.”
The team were able to stay in brief contact via satellite which pointed in the right place meant they could access wi-fi and talk to loved ones at home.
Molly credits Pete Goss, a round the world sailor, as her main role-model for the trip, and read his book before she went. In spite of the exhausting experience, she would still encourage others to try it: “I say go for it, if you really want to do it you will enjoy the whole experience. In terms of rowing across the Atlantic, just make sure you go into it fully prepared mentally and physically as well as knowing your boat back to front, then there will be no surprises.
“And for any challenge in general, I’d say never pass up opportunities like these when you have them because you only regret the opportunities you didn’t take.
“If I had the right crew and the right equipment I would definitely do it again. I really enjoyed the challenge and the experience as a whole but I wouldn’t just jump on a boat with anyone. It would have to be the right team as I understand how important that is now we have done it.”